It seems fitting that the Packers and Steelers should meet this way. Both are mired in disappointing seasons just three short years removed from tangling in the Super Bowl. The Packers find themselves needing two wins in these final two games to make the playoffs, while the Steelers need two wins to even reach .500 for the year.
Both teams can play the spoiler in their own way. The Steelers, obviously, can all but eliminate the Packers from the playoffs. It's hardly revenge for the Super Bowl, but it's something. Many of the same players that lined up that day are still on Pittsburgh's roster, and though it won't assuage the loss, it certainly can't hurt either.
The Packers, meanwhile, would no doubt like to kick the Steelers while they're down. Kicking sand in Pittsburgh's eyes is no doubt not their primary motivation; getting a win to continue their playoff quest should be. But still, there's nothing quite like beating an old foe again, just as he's trying to reclaim some of his honor.
5 - Tackles by Packers fifth round pick Josh Boyd over the last two weeks. After seven DNP's in the first nine weeks, Boyd, a big dude who looks much bigger than his listed weight of 310 pounds, is earning more and more playing time as the season winds down. In part due to injury and in part due to strong play, Boyd seems to be popping up on my TV screen more and more frequently. Perhaps the number 93 just piques my interest, given my affinity for Gilbert Brown, but it could also be Boyd's appealing quickness and ability to shed blocks. He's been interesting to watch the last couple weeks.
4 - Sacks by Cameron Heyward, the Steelers' 2011 first round pick. At the time, I thought Heyward might be a prospect for the Packers, but since they knocked Pittsburgh off in the Super Bowl, they picked 32nd and Heyward went one spot ahead of where the Packers were picking. Derek Sherrod came to Green Bay instead, and injuries have complicated his early career in a big way. Heyward, meanwhile, is a solid but unspectacular addition to Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. Though he hasn't been a world changer, he's the kind of big body the Packers certainly could have used along their front line. It's always interesting to wonder how things might have played out differently.
3 - Steelers receivers with five or more receiving touchdowns this year. Though Jerricho Cotchery (9), Antonio Brown (8), and Emmanuel Sanders (5) are all talented receivers in their own right, this stat speaks less to the skill of the Steelers receivers than it does to the continuity of their passing game, a luxury the Packers have not had this season. While the Steelers' top threesome has been relatively consistent throughout the season, the Packers, on the other hand, have had to do without Randall Cobb and James Jones at times this year. When you add (or perhaps subtract) Jermichael Finley from the mix as well, it only serves to illustrate once again just how beat up the Packers have been this year. Sure, the backup quarterback situation hasn't been great, but it's not like Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn have been throwing to the Packers' top flight guys either.
2 - Interceptions by Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' whirling dervish safety. Hampered last season by injury, Polamalu has regained much of his former strength. Though the cracks of age are showing, he's still a forced to be reckoned with, and if it's Matt Flynn under center on Sunday, I'd almost put money on Polamalu picking his pocket at least once.
1 - Touchdowns scored by Jordy Nelson since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Having notched seven scores through the Packers first seven games, Nelson was well on his way to matching his career high of 15 touchdowns when Rodgers went down. Since then, Nelson has more or less kept up his pace in terms of receptions (he has a career best 72 already), but he hasn't been able to find the end zone. Last week's spectacular grab over Orlando Scandrick was his first since he torched Minnesota's secondary for 123 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches.
Last Time - Packers: 31 Steelers: 25 - February 6, 2010
You may remember this game. It was a significant moment in Packers history. I'll let the video tell the story.
To this day, my favorite play from that game is Nick Collins' interception return for a touchdown. From the moment Howard Green pummeled Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder with that big ol' mitt of his, you knew that somebody from the Packers was going to corral that floating pass, and that somebody was Nick Collins. Of course it was Nick Collins. That was Nick's MO...appearing out of nowhere to snag whatever errant pass came his way. And that return...just beautiful. I'm getting nostalgic. I wish he could still play.
Meet a Steeler - Jason Worilds - 6'2", 262 lbs. - OLB - 4th NFL Season
Jason Worilds has to be about the most under the radar player to ever lead the Steelers in sacks. That in itself is pretty impressive, because it's hard for a 262 pound dude to go under the radar anywhere, much less a guy who has started 20 games over the last three seasons. Yet here he is, leading the Steelers in sacks, but with nary a highlight to his name. Instead, see what you can glean from his collegiate highlight reel.
The Steelers will win if...
...they play to their potential. This, again, is the theme heading into a Packers game. For the fourth week in a row, the Packers are almost certainly outmatched. If the Steelers play as they're capable of playing, this should not be a contest. Then again, the last two games should not have been, either. We'll see.
The Packers will win if...
...Aaron Rodgers plays. The remainder of the Packers season revolves around a very simple formula. To win the Super Bowl...to even have a shot...the Packers must be in the playoffs. To be in the playoffs, the Packers must win their division. To win their division, the Packers must win two games. And to win two games, they must have Aaron Rodgers. The Matt Flynn Experience we've been able to enjoy the last couple weeks has been fun, but I have no confidence that he can do it two more times. The Packers must have Aaron Rodgers, or this season is over.
The Pick - Steelers: 28 Packers: 17
Flynn's run the last two weeks has been wild and fun, but I think it has to come to an end. Unfortunately, that means the Packers end their 2013 home schedule with a loss, but disappointment has been the theme of this season.
Tweet(s) of the Week
A two part pictorial journey, courtesy of Donald Driver, who had an apparently unfortunate run-in with a Broncos fan on a flight.
Come on, bro. Lose the hat. Or find a better hat. Or just don't be a jerk.